What Child is this, who, laid to rest, 
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet 
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year. We grieve, to varying degrees, for those who are no longer here. The empty place at the table, the tendency to pull out more silverware than is now needed, all seem to reiterate the loss.

If death has called near Christmas or within the past year, the holidays become a time of mourning, not of celebration. We are in conflict with the season.

And yet…there are lessons to be learned and good to be found. Always, God is there for us. He doesn’t admonish us to stop grieving. God accepts us as we are. 

My only sibling, Julia Westbrook Barritt, died of cystic fibrosis on the first Sunday in Advent, in 1968. My grief has evaporated over the years, decades, a lifetime. But the sense of loss is always with me. Every time I hear the hymn “What Child is This,” tears run down my cheeks and I contemplate what my younger sister, only 12 at her death, might be like today.

She would be so much fun and interesting and challenging and just delightful. Julie wrote constantly. It was a way of leaving her mark on our world. One of her poems reads, “so get down little girl and go to town, life is a dream to travel on, on my way, on my bike, I shall go to town, go to town.”

Julie’s gifts to us were her appetite for life, despite her terrible disease, and her creativity and her humor. But really she taught us how to live and then how to die. We do not know when or where we shall die. In Julie’s world, you just lived until death came. In the last week of her life, she went to school and even to choir practice, although she was in virtually complete respiratory failure, and edema was swelling her rail-thin body. 

Julie wrote, “Lord, you know you’ve gotta love me.” Her faith was deep and she was not afraid. It’s just what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:38-39: Nothing can separate us from the love of God. 

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the gifts of faith, wisdom and courage of a sister, herself your gift.

Winnie Walsh

About the Contributor

Winnie Walsh is an elder and has been a member of First Presbyterian since 1974.